October 17, 2021

America's Top Colleges (According To Forbes)

For the first time, a public school, UC Berkeley, took the number one spot on the list. Yale is #2. MIT and Harvard are #6 and #7, respectively. The next public school on the list after Berkeley is UCLA at #8. The next public school is UC San Diego at #15. Next is UC Davis at #20. The first non-California public school on the list is Michigan, Ann Arbor at #22.

Wellesley is #32. Tufts is #38. Boston College is #56. Northeastern is #76. Babson is #81. Boston University is #83. Brandeis is #128. Bentley is #139.

permalink | October 17, 2021 at 08:27 PM | Comments (0)

Prisoner Firefighters

An interesting, well written account of why California prisoners prefer fighting wildfires to sitting in prison cells.

Sending us to fight fires was abusive. We preferred it to staying in prison.

By Matthew Hahn
Matthew Hahn is a union electrician and meditation teacher who writes about his time in prison and issues related to criminal justice. He lives in San Jose, Calif., with his wife and two cats.
October 15, 2021 at 6:55 a.m. EDT

On the perimeter of the smoldering ruins of Lassen National Forest in Northern California this summer, an orange-clad crew of wildland firefighters worked steadily to contain the Dixie Fire, the largest single wildfire in state history. Using rakes, axes and chain saws, they literally moved the landscape, cleaving burned from unburned to contain the flames. This work was dangerous, and they made just a few dollars per hour, working 24-hour shifts.

But it was better than being in prison.

I used to be one of the incarcerated people whom California employs to fight wildfires, and I was fortunate. During my nine years in prison for drug-related burglaries, ending in 2012, I never met a fellow prisoner who didn’t want to be in “fire camp,” as the program is known. Some dreamed of going but knew they would never be allowed to live in such a low-security facility. Others, like me, did everything in their capacity to ensure that they got there as soon as humanly possible. For the most part, this meant being savvy and lucky enough to stay out of trouble during the first few years of my incarceration.

Though the program is voluntary, some well-meaning people on social media and in activist circles like to compare fire camp to slavery. Every fire season, they draw attention to its resemblance to chain gangs of the past, its low wages and its exploitative nature. Some argue that incarcerated firefighters face insurmountable barriers to careers in that field after parole, though this has started to change in recent years. Others argue that the voluntary nature of fire camp is a ruse, that consent cannot be offered by the coerced.

There is some truth to these objections, but they ignore the reality of why people would want to risk life and limb for a state that is caging them: The conditions in California prisons are so terrible that fighting wildfires is a rational choice. It is probably the safest choice as well.

I’m from a long line of California ranchers. Now we flee fires all the time.

California prisons have, on average, three times the murder rate of the country overall and twice the rate of all American prisons. These figures don’t take into account the sheer number of physical assaults that occur behind prison walls. Prison feels like a dangerous place because it is. Whether it’s individual assaults or large-scale riots, the potential for violence is ever-present. Fire camp represents a reprieve from that risk.

Sure, people can die in fire camp as well — at least three convict-firefighters have died working to contain fires in California since 2017 — but the threat doesn’t weigh on the mind like the prospect of being murdered by a fellow prisoner. I will never forget the relief I felt the day I set foot in a fire camp in Los Angeles County, like an enormous burden had been lifted.

The experience was at times harrowing, as when my 12-man crew was called to fight the Jesusita Fire, which scorched nearly 9,000 acres and destroyed 80 homes in the Santa Barbara hills back in 2009. I distinctly remember our vehicle rounding an escarpment along the coast when the fire revealed itself, the plume rising and then disappearing into a cloud cover of its own making. Bright orange fingers of flame danced along the top of the mountains.

The fire had been moving in the patches of grass and brush between properties, so we zigzagged our way between homes, cutting down bushes, beating away flames and leaving a four-foot-wide dirt track in our wake. I was perpetually out of breath, a combination of exertion and poor air quality. My flame-resistant clothing was soaked with sweat, and I remember seeing steam rise from my pant leg when I got too close to the burning grass.

The fire had ignited one home’s deck and was slowly burning its way to the structure. We cut the deck off the house, saving the home. I often fantasize about the owners returning to see it still standing, unaware and probably unconcerned that an incarcerated fire crew had saved it. There was satisfaction in knowing that our work was as valuable as that of any other firefighter working the blaze and that the gratitude expressed toward first responders included us.

Prisons are getting Whiter. That’s one way mass incarceration might end.

There are other reasons for prisoners to choose fire camp if given the opportunity. They are often located in secluded natural settings, giving inmates the chance to live in an environment that doesn’t remotely resemble a prison. There are no walls, and sometimes there aren’t even fences. Gun towers are conspicuously absent, and the guards aren’t even armed.

Camps have good meals, more nutritious and higher-calorie than those served in the chow hall behind the walls. Hobby shops give the men and women of fire camp the opportunity to do woodworking, metalsmithing and painting.

Perhaps the greatest incentive is the work-time credits, allowing for earlier parole. Before I got to fire camp, my earliest possible release date was November 2013, yet I ended up paroling in February 2012.

It’s understandable that fire camps are seen as dicey ethical terrain. Yes, the decision to take part is largely made under duress, given the alternative. Yes, incarcerated firefighters are paid pennies for an invaluable task. And yes, it is difficult though not impossible for participants to become firefighters after leaving prison. Despite this, fire camps remain the most humane places to do time in the California prison system.

The risk of the slavery conversation is that it further endangers the fire camp program. Already, the state has closed some camps as it tries to reduce the incarcerated population and fewer eligible people remain in prison. There are now 1,600 incarcerated men and women scattered in 35 fire camps across the state. “We are in desperate need of these programs,” Brandon Dunham, a former U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management firefighter, said recently. “They need us and we need them.”

Private prisons aren’t uniquely heinous. All prisons are abusive.

If one is genuinely worried about slavery or the choiceless choice of incarcerated firefighters, consider the guy pushing a broom in his cell block making the equivalent of one Top Ramen noodle packet per day, just so he can have the privilege of making a collect call to his mother. Or think of the man scrubbing the streaks out of the guards’ toilets, making seven cents an hour, half of which goes to pay court fees and restitution, just so he can have those couple of hours outside his cage for the day.

I appreciate the collective efforts and concern on behalf of incarcerated firefighters. But they fail to take into account the hundreds of thousands of people in jails and prisons across America in conditions so terrible as to make fire camps seem like country clubs. Places where people are forced to choose between working for nothing and losing their humanity.

So, while we may have faced the heat of a wildfire for a few bucks a day, and we may have saved a few homes and been happy doing so, understand that we were rational actors. We wanted to be there, where some of our dignity was returned to us.

permalink | October 17, 2021 at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2021

Reefer Madness Alive In The Republican Armpit Of Riverside County

Residents of rural De Luz (just west of Temecula) are hauling out all the old shibboleths in their arguments against the first legal marijuana cultivation in Riverside Count outside of an incorporated city. Fine. Let 'em object. Send those developers over to Desert Hot Springs.

"Vikki Havins said she worries robbers will think her van is full of cannabis from Fuego Farms." Because that's just how they do it after spending millions to build a cultivation facility, they assemble a fleet of used Ford vans to drive their valuable cargo around rural backroads.

It would be very interesting, but terribly unethical, if someone who wanted to keep the marijuana cultivation real estate market high were to support a misinformation campaign to encourage the uninformed citizenry to panic. That would be the sort of thing Russia would do.

permalink | October 13, 2021 at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2021

Mt. Whitney View

Summit View
July 1968 view from Mt. Whitney Peak captured on Kodachrome
by John Fisher.
The caption he provided:

Mt. Whitney California U.S.A. At 14,505 Ft (4,421 m) Mount Whitney is the highest peak in California. Iceburg lake is lower left. 10,000 ft. below is the town of Lone pine in the Owens Valley.
Olympus OM-1, 24mm f2.8, Zuiko, Kodachrome

Mt. Whitney is the tallest in the 48 states.

permalink | October 12, 2021 at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

Mountain Lion "Monrovia" Found Dead

She had been rescued from last year's Bobcat Fire and kept in rehab for a few weeks due to burned paw pads, and then released. Her tracking collar and occasional appearances in front of wildlife cameras indicated she successfully returned to life in the wild, wandering over 67 square miles of urban-wilderness interface. Her body has been recovered, but a cause of death could not be determined. She was estimated to be 6 or 7 years old when rescued.

permalink | October 12, 2021 at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

October 6, 2021

Latino Assembly Members Object To Riverside County Redistricting Maps

"'These proposed maps were drawn with a clear intent to protect certain incumbent supervisors and dilute the influence of Latino voters,' read a joint statement issued Monday, Oct. 4, by [Sabrina] Cervantes, [Jose] Medina and [Eduardo] Garcia."

You can find the four proposed redistricting maps by clicking here.

permalink | October 6, 2021 at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2021

Newsom Recall Gains Majority In Riverside County

As vote counting has progressed the Yes votes have pulled ahead in Riverside County this week. Voteinfo.net says the numbers (as of 9/23/2021) are 358,062 Yes versus 351,958 No. Larry Elder has 279,291 votes so far, highlighting the anti-democratic element of California's referendum laws. The Press-Enterprise reports that Elder "has 60.6% of the vote in Riverside County," which is not accurate. Newsom got 351,958 votes, greatly exceeding Elder's. If you add the No votes to the vote total, No (Newsom) got 43% of the votes while Elder got 34%.

I think this means that we can expect a lot more hateful, ignorant, bigoted politics from Republicans in Riverside County for the 2022 elections. But that's like predicting there will be more wildfires or greater COVIDiocy. No need for a crystal ball or precognition.

permalink | September 24, 2021 at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2021

New Challenge For High Speed Rail To Vegas

Land bridges for bighorns. That's the challenge. Conservation groups say that a 6-foot high barrier wall that will separate I-15 traffic from the new rail line to be constructed down the median of the highway will prevent bighorn sheep from crossing. One assumes that currently the sheep are just dodging between motor vehicles, but the article makes no mention of rates of roadkill except for citing one traffic accident. The demand is for three crossings which the railroad has not budget for. As a railroad project, it is solely under federal jurisdiction and, therefore, CEQA does not apply! The conservationist toolbox is diminished in this case.

permalink | September 22, 2021 at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2021

The Rodney King Videographer Has Died Due To COVID

George Holliday, a plumber from Argentina, grabbed his Sony Handycam when he heard the sirens outside his residence. He shot the video from his balcony. He tried to offer the video to the LAPD twice, but they were uninterested, so he handed it over to KTLA. The video - a bit over 8 minutes.

Mr. Holliday died at a hospital in Simi Valley on Sunday.

permalink | September 20, 2021 at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2021

Vaccines and the Recall

The L.A. Times came up with this little chart that seems to show a correlation between higher vaccination rates and voting "No" on the recall.

Here in Riverside County the current voting count stands at 52% No while the fully vaccinated rate is 49.49%. Larry Elder polled at 36.6%. Our own Jeff Hewitt came in at a pitiful 3,634 votes or 0.6%. Don't quit your "day job", Jeffy. Hewitt is in 12th place among the losers (in Riverside County), immediately behind Caitlyn Jenner who has racked up 4,268 votes.

permalink | September 16, 2021 at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2021

More Lawlessness In The Riverside County Sheriff's Office

Once again, the sheriff thinks his knowledge of medicine and science exceeds that of anyone else in California. The sheriff posted a self-serving video here. He wants to treat scientists researching COVID as if they are criminal suspects. That is, if new evidence causes them to revise their theories, they must be lying. When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. He repeats the falsehood that actually having COVID gives you better protection than the vaccine. "Everyone knows that. That is science." Well, Chad, the scientists don't know that. In fact, they know the opposite. But I'm sure as soon as he gets his brand new Chad Bianco Medical School up and running he can prove those scientists wrong.

In a press release today anticipating the news article in the Press-Enterprise Bianco said this:

There is absolutely nothing in my podcast that was incorrect or irresponsible. It is factual and common sense based … the information I have about Covid and the vaccines is easily found and available for anyone wanting to find it.

Yes, indeed, false information about COVID is very easy to find. That does not make it accurate.

He says 1,500 employees (out of a total of 3,600) in the Sheriff's Department have tested positive. That's almost 42%. He doesn't say how many died. He doesn't know or care how many are vaccinated. Keep that in mind if you ever have to be in close proximity to a Riverside County Sheriff. I wonder how they can in good conscience work with those who can't be vaccinated, like children or pregnant women. Maybe the Sheriff will suggest prayer.

It's his opinion, too, that it is not the role of government to keep the public healthy. I hope when he turns 65 he voluntarily refuses to accept Medicare. And I hope he only eats in libertarian restaurants like the late Tinhorn Flats in Burbank that refuse to submit to those jackbooted Public Health Department thugs. I guess he should also be getting any health care he needs solely from unlicensed practitioners.

He tries to make an analogy between COVID and all the other unhealthy things in the world like sweetened soda beverages, tobacco and Republican thought. (Well, no, he didn't really mention Republican thought.) I'm sure he also opposes chlorination of public water supplies. The FDA should be shut down, of course. The Sheriff probably gets any medications he needs from drug busts. Does the Sheriff's Department enforce helmet and seatbelt laws? If so, why?

He is very effective at demolishing straw men, I gotta give him that.

And then there's the fact that Bianco has endorsed Larry Elder.


The Riverside Alliance for Safety & Accountability is organizing to oust him.

permalink | September 13, 2021 at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)

Four More From Galleta Meadows

These were shot on Kodak Tri-X film.
Giant Sloth at Galleta Meadows (2)

Sand Dragon's Tail at Galleta Meadows (3)

Sand Dragon at Galleta Meadows (7)

Camelops at Galleta Meadows (7)

permalink | September 13, 2021 at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)

September 8, 2021

Trump Concedes Newsom Will Be Retained

permalink | September 8, 2021 at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

September 5, 2021

Six Plumeria - B&W and Color Compared

The black & white shots were made with New Classic EZ 400 film. I shot the color ones with my Canon Powershot S110. These were all at the L.A. County Arboretum.

L.A. County Arboretum - Plumeria (54)Plumeria at the L.A. Arboretum (5657)
L.A. County Arboretum - Plumeria (55)Plumeria at the L.A. Arboretum (5654)
L.A. County Arboretum - Plumeria (56)Plumeria at the L.A. Arboretum (5651)
L.A. County Arboretum - Plumeria (58)Plumeria at the L.A. Arboretum (5666)
L.A. County Arboretum - Plumeria (59)Plumeria at the L.A. Arboretum (5663)
L.A. County Arboretum - Plumeria (60)Plumeria at the L.A. Arboretum (5660)

permalink | September 5, 2021 at 04:59 PM | Comments (0)

Adjusting The Terms Of Sheriffs

A proposal (AB-759) to align the elections of district attorney, sheriff, and assessor with presidential election years has raised the ire of the Republican sheriffs who have built a reputation of disrespect for the rule of law, Villanueva and Bianco specifically. This makes me think there's something really good in this bill.

The news article doesn't mention any objections coming from county assessors.

permalink | September 5, 2021 at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

September 3, 2021

Blooms in the High Desert

According to the Mojave Desert Land Trust there has been sufficient rain in the high desert recently to get a small-ish bloom going. There are also seedlings sprouting up here and there. I, myself, while I don't live in the high desert have noticed many palo verde sprouts in my yard due solely to that one soaking rain we had in July.

permalink | September 3, 2021 at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2021

Exoskeletons of Two Sorts

Cicada Molt in Infrared (0998)
A cicada molt in infrared
shot digitally with my Canon G12.

The following three photos were shot in Galleta Meadows around Borrego Springs using Lomography Berlin Kino film and a red filter.
Gompotherium at Galleta Meadows (1)

Grasshopper at Galleta Meadows (1)

Scorpion at Galleta Meadows (1)

permalink | September 2, 2021 at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

Tinhorn Flats Auction

If you've got a taste for worn bar furnishings from a bar that operated with no health department license and ignoring all COVID rules, here ya go, all the crap from the late (but not lamented) Tinhorn Flats in Burbank.

permalink | September 2, 2021 at 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

September 1, 2021

Gray Wolf Getting Closer

A gray wolf has been spotted in southwest Kern County. The wolf was wearing a collar, so they theorize it might be OR-93, the gray wolf that came from Oregon. Its radio signal was tracked to San Luis Obispo County in April and then lost.

permalink | September 1, 2021 at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

August 30, 2021

Larry Elder Fan Club

Not my photo.

permalink | August 30, 2021 at 10:04 PM | Comments (0)